The Indian-Bangladeshi restaurant sector faces a host of problems, topped by the government’s tougher line on immigration.
It is difficult to get staff to fill vacancies in curry restaurants, including chefs, waiters and kitchen porters, many owners deciding to close or sell because they can’t get the staff.
As one curry restaurant owner says: ‘Running a number of restaurants nowadays is such a headache, especially when you cannot find skilled staff to work in the kitchen. Even if you do find one you risk a £10,000 fine if you wrongly check his documents.’
And it is invariably a ‘he’ working in these restaurants. Romy Gill became the UK’s first Indian female chef restaurant owner, unbelievably, when she opened Romy’s Kitchen in Gloucestershire in 2013.
The Hospitality Guild, which has set up the so-called Curry Colleges, has failed to persuade budding British chefs, male or female, to choose to become curry chefs.
In our neck of the woods you will have noticed few, if any, new ones opening, but Chichester’s Masala Gate and others continue to battle the choppy employment elements.
I visited Masala Gate with two others after a screening of one of the films at the Chichester International Film Festival which hosted Ralph Fiennes and other actors and directors including one of my co-diners, a film director who hadn’t visited a curry house for decades.
The restaurant, an attractive long room with banquettes and high-backed chairs, exudes vibrant colours and cheerfulness.
One of my guests, a vegetarian, had no difficulty with the menu, plenty of choices including sag roll, onion bhajis, classic vindaloos, rogan, dhansak, bhuna and other curries; balti or biryani dishes.
Our meat lovers had a wealth of choice including tandoori mixed grill; almashriki (chicken or lamb with spinach and cashew nuts) and roshni shatkora, Madras-hot chicken or lamb with lemon, tomato and onion. There are the usual side dishes – sag aloo, mixed dal – alongside rice and bread choices. Prices? About £3.95 for a starter, £9-£10 for a main, naan bread £2.95.
Service was slow, the restaurant packed with what looked like rugby players the size of the Vunipola brothers drinking ferocious amounts of Indian beers. But the food is worth the wait, a Balti multi-vegetable dish with a thick tomato-based spiced sauce finding favour with the director as did a sag aloo. Palak Peshwani, chicken breast with coconut, almond, mango and spinach was slowly demolished with excellent rice.
My choice was chicken with coriander, light spicing mixed with garlic and ginger. But why the overload of sweetness in this dish? Eating dessert with the main is not my cup of tea. The sugar content was neutralised by the rice and some of the best naan bread I’ve had for a while. Desserts? They may offer some ice cream, but the choices are negligible. The service was excellent.
Support these endangered venues – mostly independent restaurants – or wave a tearful farewell to them. Now to encourage Brits to learn to cook and to serve at their local curry house, thereby hopefully saving them from extinction. Our bill, including two drinks but no tip, came to £53.
Masala Gate, 8 St Pancras, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 7SJ 01243 776008. Open 7 days a week from 12–2.30pm and 5.30–11.30pm.
Disabled access: narrow but staff are accommodating.
How to get there: take the A27 to Chichester, exiting at signs for the railway station. Follow Market Avenue then onto one-way system which becomes St Pancras. No parking on street but at public car park accessed via New Park Road.